As many people throw back margaritas and fill up on taco’s today it’s surprising that many don’t really know the origins of “Cinco de Mayo” or in Mexico known as the Battle of Puebla Day. The origins of “Cinco de Mayo” come from a battle in 1862 when the French tried to invade Puebla, Mexico due to unpaid debts by the Mexican country. Some important names are associated with this time such as Benito Juarez, Napoleon III, and General Ignacio Zaragoza.
Who was Benito Juarez?
Benito Juarez was the 26th President of Mexico
between 1858 – 1872 and is a huge figure in Mexican culture. He is considered a
symbol of Mexican Nationalism and resistance to foreign intervention for his
roller coaster life in Mexican Politics. During his life he was exiled several
times from power and even Mexico. He successfully led Mexico through war with
France and allowed Mexico to continue its independence from foreign rule. He
devoted his whole life to Mexican independence and growth as a nation that he
is the only person honored to have his birthday as a public and patriotic
holiday every year on March 21st. He was president during the Battle
Benito Juarez was such a national treasure for Mexico it made me wonder who were some great Latino(a) military leaders in US History.
Five Latino(a) US Military Heroes we should all know:
Private France Silva who became the first of 13 Hispanic Marines to receive the Medal of Honor was of Mexican decent and born in California in 1876. The Medal of Honor is the US’s highest and most prestigious personal military decoration. Private Silva received the medal for his combat and bravery in the Boxer Rebellion of China in 1901.
Pedro del Valle was a US Marine and the first Latino to reach the rank of Lieutenant General. He served during the years of 1915 – 1948 which included service in WWI, WWII, the Battle of Okinawa and many others. He was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico while it was still under colonial Spanish rule. After WWII, he was recommended for the position of Governor of Puerto Rico, which between 1898 – 1942 were appointed by the President of the United States. He eventually asked to be withdrawn from consideration leading to the appointment of Jesus Piñero who is the first civilian and native Puerto Rican appointed Governor of the island.
Angela Salinas is an American retired General in the Marines. She is the first Hispanic woman to become a general in the Marines and the first woman to command a Marine Corps Recruit Depot. She now serves as the CEO of a branch of the Girl Scouts of America.
The Borinqueneers aka 65th Infantry Regiment is a Puerto Rican regiment created shortly after Puerto Rico became a commonwealth of the United States. It was nicknamed Borinqueneers after the Taino name for the island Borinquen. It has been active in all the major US wars since its creation in 1920.
David Farragut – This was a big surprise for me and I wanted to include him as I have seen his name from time to time plastered on streets or schools. Farragut’s father was from Spain but died early in his life and he was adopted by a naval officer in Virginia. He fought for the US in many of their early wars and fought on the side of the Union during the Civil War.
Diverse group shows we have been here from the start!
I wanted to share a diverse group of Hispanic / Latino(a) Americans
that served our country throughout the history of the United States to show we
have always been present from the start. On this Cinco de Mayo symbolizing
where Mexicans united to fight for their nation even though they were
outnumbered proves we can fight the insurmountable. We need equal
representation as we have fought for this country alongside the very diverse
history of the people who call themselves Americans.
We are in a moment in American Cinema. A historic moment where we
are seeing improved representation for people of color in filmmaking as well as
recognition for those films. For example, Crazy Rich Asians has
been heralded by many as a signal of this moment. Its tremendous success in
the Box Office suggested to
many that an all-Asian and more importantly, an all non-white cast can succeed
in filling U.S. theaters. And then (and even more importantly for some) it’s
been praised as an important moment for many Asian Americans who have long felt
underrepresented in Hollywood.
And rightfully so. Tons of works have documented how people of
color have been grossly under-represented in film and television. Asian
Americans, like many other(ed) racial/ethnic minorities have been mistreated by
mainstream media (See F. Wu’s book for how this impacts
the prevalent stereotypes about Asian Americans).
Many have also linked Crazy Rich Asians to
the tremendous success experienced by Black Panther, which
shattered records in the Box Office. Also signaling
to many that a predominantly black cast with a black superhero protagonist can
achieve wide American viewership. This means a lot to those who have noticed
the recycled storylines that marginalize and stereotype Black Americans (for
more on this, check out Vera & Gordon’s workon how American Film
centers and protects Whiteness).
“Roma has symbolized the representation that Mexican
Americans have been calling for in popular culture.”
In talking with family and friends (basically all Latinas/os), you
would think that Roma is our Black
Panther, our Crazy Rich Asians. Roma has also been
lauded for its focus on social issues in Mexico. To many, this has marked a new
moment in U.S. cinematic history since its director, Alfonso Cuarón, a Latino,
took home an Oscar, and its lead was nominated for best actress. The film has
symbolized a moment of representation that Latinxs, Mexican Americans in
particular, have been calling for in popular culture and media. There’s no
doubt that we’ve needed representation.
And yes, the cinematography is a revelation in Roma.
The acting is remarkable. The production quality was impeccable. Look, I tell
my gente, the craft overall is impressive. So you can imagine how so many have
questioned my sanity when I said I didn’t love the film. Later, after the
Oscars, I didn’t care that it didn’t take home so many of its nominations. So
why am I crazy?
[SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t already watch it, go watch it, then
come back and read the rest of this.] The film takes place in 1960’s Mexico
City, in the wealthy neighborhood of Roma. The story follows Cleo, an
indigenous domestic worker as she works for a wealthy doctor’s family. The
drama unravels as Cleo experiences a number of hardships and to add to an
already difficult life. The film depicts the exploitative relationship she has
with her employer family. The work is hard. She undergoes one humiliation after
another. The family takes her for granted. They treat her like help while
telling her (and in a few instances showing her) that she is part of the
family. And ultimately in a gut-wrenching moment, toward the end of the story,
she experiences a painful stillbirth. The film highlights the conflict-ridden
domestic worker-family relationship. It also doesn’t turn away from the point
that Cleo, a worker of clearly indigenous origins serves a Euro-looking wealthy
family, showcasing a history of colonization, oppression, and exploitation that
continues today in Mexico. But it’s
more than just about Roma and Cleo’s story. At the end of the film, the camera
pulls away from a rooftop shot where Cleo washes the family’s clothes to show
that there are many more stories in Roma yet to be told, more stories like
Cleo’s. It is powerful imagery with the performance and storytelling to match.
Again, I think everyone should watch it. But before you break out into wild
applause, hear me out.
I also think we need to have high expectations of what we consider
to represent us. We (Latinxs and people of color, generally) have such few
points where we can claim a rounded depiction of ourselves in popular media.
Equally important, we, now referring all critical viewers, need to hold a high
standard to filmmakers so that they do more than just “show” us a social
inequality. Filmmakers should interrogate the source and beneficiaries of these
stark inequalities, not just “show and tell” us about them.
“We need to move beyond a simple ‘show and tell’ -style of
My main issue was with how Cleo’s story ended. I
was uneasy throughout watching the film as it showed some hard-hitting moments
about Cleo’s life, and waited for a moment where I could exclaim, “Yes! Thank
you for making that statement about her oppression/oppressors!” but we never
reached that point. Perhaps my main problem was really what lead up to the
ending. After Cleo experienced a stillbirth, she saved the lives of the
children she works for (probably an intentional irony). Then, she cries about
her miscarriage while being embraced by her employers. Was this heartfelt? Was
this problematic? It likely depends on which viewer you ask.
We have to remember, that in the colonizer-colonized relationship
isn’t solely a top-down oppression dynamic. In fact, as scholars have pointed out,
when a person becomes a colonizer, their whole worldview is, to use a technical
term, fucked. Their social position becomes justified and
rationalized by their perspective on life and the world. They are incapable of
viewing the colonized as a full human being, thus their own personal humanity
becomes fractured. So, I can easily imagine someone from a wealthy white family
watching the same film and thinking, “Yeah, that’s true, Cleo truly was a
part of the family. And, while they all faced adversity they
did it together… All’s well, ends well.” They may feel no
culpability in their personal role in maintaining an oppressive system. They
might even go home and hug their Latinx domestic worker or nanny and feel okay
after. In this case, the traditional cinema-as-a-mirrormodel is
We need to move beyond a simple “show and tell” -style of cinema.
A wide viewership, blinded by the fact that we desperately needed both quality
and quantity representation in the media, has praised Roma. For what it is,
it’s a great film. But we should not settle for finally being
on camera. We shouldn’t not settle for simply being acknowledged for doing good
work behind the camera. We deserve better than that.
I think I’ll wait for a film that truly represents my background,
including my perspective and my values. I will wait for a film that doesn’t
allow white elites to continue their colonial relationships and behaviors
without a second (or maybe third?) thought. A film that I can genuinely laud
without hesitation. In the meantime, I will rely on other well-crafted,
real-life narratives about experiences that speak truths. For example,
sociologist M. Romero’s works are based on a combination of auto-biographic
stories and in-depth data that tell rich detailed narratives about domestic workers in the U.S. You can’t walk away
from those books without being pissed off about the social inequalities that
prevail today. She’s doing more than showing society a mirror, she’s clearly
pointing out what we should focus on in the reflection.
I don’t know how long it will be before they make a movie that
represents my story better. When they do, what would it be titled? Maybe,
“CRAZY POOR LATINOS ?”